LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Conversations on Religion, with Lord Byron
James Kennedy to John Cam Hobhouse, 11 November 1824

First Conversation
Kennedy on Scripture
Second Conversation
Third Conversation
Fourth Conversation
Fifth Conversation
Memoir of Byron
Byron’s Character
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Ithaca, November 11th, 1824.

‘I received your letter a few days ago, and thank you for your politeness and candour. It cannot be supposed that I imagined that I was about to do any thing prejudicial to the character or fame of Lord Byron, when, in my letter to Mr. Kinnaird, whom I addressed by mistake as an executor, I stated that my reasons for resolving to publish an account of the Conversations with his lordship on religion were, that I believe such an account would be interesting in itself; would tend to remove much of that obloquy which many Christians attach to his lordship; and would not be injurious nor offensive to any one, whilst it might possibly be useful to many.


‘My objects are still the same; but as you are entitled from your long friendship with his lordship, as well as from your office, to inquire into every thing that may affect his character, I shall more fully explain the nature of my intended publication, by which means you can judge whether my design be praiseworthy or not, and whether you can approve or condemn it. I shall certainly hesitate before I publish any thing derived from a private or confidential intercourse with Lord Byron, at least such an intercourse as implied no right to publish what took place, which can in any way appear to you or his friends calculated to injure his reputation.

‘A few days after his lordship’s arrival in Cephalonia, I became acquainted with him in consequence of his having expressed a desire to be present at a meeting of some of my acquaintances, who wished to hear me explain, in a logical and demonstrative manner, the evidences and doctrines of Christianity. He attended the first meeting, but was not present at several others which were held, partly because he was busy in the country, and partly because he was not expressly invited. He took, however, an interest in the discussions carried on, and
repeatedly expressed his wish through the medium of a friend, that I would go out and converse with him on these subjects. I therefore visited him several times, and had very long conversations with him. The conversation was chiefly on religion, but it turned occasionally on literature, authors, books, the character of living individuals, and sometimes on his own views and plans, works, and private concerns. On religion his lordship was in general a hearer, proposing his difficulties and objections with more fairness than could have been expected from one under similar circumstances, and with so much candour that they often seemed to be proposed more for the purpose of procuring information or satisfactory answers, than from any other motive. These difficulties and objections were neither original nor new, and proved that his lordship, though tolerably well acquainted with the historical and poetical parts of Scripture, had no understanding of them as the means of salvation. On other topics, I was for the most part a hearer, and heard from him many anecdotes and opinions which, though interesting and expressed in his characteristic manner, I never intended to publish, not only from a consideration of the circum-
stances under which they were communicated, but from their having no immediate relation with the object of my work. Opinions, however, on authors who have been long dead, and on their writings, may or may not, I imagine, be mentioned, according as they may fall within my plan.

‘I intend, in the first division of the work, to give an account of the conversations with my friends; and as I was the principal speaker, this part will contain my arguments in favour of religion, while the objections and difficulties that were started, will be stated and examined, without ascribing this to this, or that to that individual. As all these friends are alive, delicacy requires that I should be general and brief in all that relates to them, not from an idea that any shame will accrue to them for wishing to hear and understand religion, but from deference to the repugnance which every one has to appearing before the public unnecessarily. The second division will attempt to convey a view of the chief external evidences, but, above all, of the internal evidences of Christianity, drawn entirely from the Scriptures themselves, and divested of all theological theories and technicalities, in the most simple and per-
spicuous manner of which I am capable; and if my execution of this part of the subject could equal, which I know it will not, my design, I think that a scheme of religion so pure, perfect, and complete, accounting for the state of man, solving the difficulties of moral and physical evil, suiting the actual condition and circumstances of mankind and pointing out the only road to happiness here and hereafter, could be presented, that the most exalted reason, if fairly exercised, would be compelled to recognise the impress of divinity in the Christian revelation. The third division will contain an account of my conversations with
Lord Byron, written with the same precautions which I use in the first division, except that I mention his name on the ground that these conversations do more credit to his lordship with respect to religious opinion, than can be inferred from many of his writings. The last part of the work will contain an examination of the extent to which real Christian principles appear to pervade and influence the different ranks of society; of the causes which have hitherto retarded the spread of Christianity, and the means calculated to promote its progress in future.


‘Of the delicacy and difficulty of my undertaking I am aware; yet, if written a with spirit of truth and integrity, it may, though imperfect in its execution, be useful to many. I shall leave this question to be decided by my friends. There will be less difficulty in touching on Lord Byron’s views of religion than you imagine, because I shall not form a creed for him, which I fear he had not taken time to do for himself, but I shall simply relate facts which, when contrasted with many of his writings, render his character more amiable; and I shall consult both delicacy and justice in excluding most of his opinions and anecdotes relating to living individuals both public and private.

‘The chief difficulty which presents itself to me is, whether I am justified in availing myself of these conversations with so celebrated a man, in order to give additional interest to a work, the object of which I profess to be utility. If my doing so would injure his character or fame in the slightest degree, there could not be a moment’s hesitation in deciding on the baseness of the measure. But as far as I can judge, a true statement of what occurred will place his
lordship’s character in a fairer light than he has himself done in many of his writings, or than can, perhaps, be done by a friendly biographer. The brightest parts of his life were those which he spent in Cephalonia and Missolunghi, and the fact of his wishing to hear Christianity explained by one, merely because he believed him sincere; confessing that he derived no happiness from his unsettled notions on religion; expressing a desire to be convinced; and his carrying with him religious books, and promising to give the subject a more attentive study than he had ever done, will throw a certain lustre over the darker shade of his fame, and a mixture of hope and sympathy over his character and memory, in the minds of all Christians. It will, moreover, take him from the ranks of such men as
Hume, Gibbon, and Voltaire, in which too many will be disposed to place him, and deprive deists of the right of quoting him as a cool, deliberate rejector of Christianity.

‘I shall submit this difficulty to my friends in England, and be guided by their opinion; and should they judge that the reasons for using his lordship’s name are fair, I shall
then, if you wish it, submit to you, or any of his friends, every part of the work which relates to him, and attend to every reasonable objection or suggestion—I except, however, any opinions I may give on his character and writings, derived from sources open to all: though, even on these points, you may not find much to which to object; for I shall neither praise nor blame his lordship so much as some of his friends on the one hand, or some of his enemies on the other, might probably desire. My opinions shall be free and impartial, given with that moderation which truth requires, and with that delicacy which is due to the memory of a man whose hospitality and kindness I have shared.

‘I have two or three letters only in my possession from his lordship, which relate to a young Turkish girl whom he intended to place ultimately with his daughter, but whom, for a while, he wished to be with me. I intended to publish them as a proof of his romantic generosity and benevolence; but if you have the least objection, they shall be suppressed.

‘I am satisfied with the fairness of the motives which influence me; but as I may
possibly deceive myself, I shall remain open to conviction, and be obliged to any one who shall point put my error; for I would rather alter the work by omitting everything which relates to Lord Byron, or suppress it altogether, than violate any principle of honest dealing, or of Christian duty.

‘The rather tedious explanation which I have now given will, I hope, appear to you satisfactory, and I have only to add, that you will oblige me if you will have the goodness to give me your opinion on the subject as soon as you can, making, at the same time, such objections or suggestions as you consider necessary.

‘I am, Sir,
‘Your humble,
‘Obedient servant,
‘(Signed)  J. Kennedy.’
John Cam Hobhouse, Esq.